Kevin Buitrago lives in Brooklyn, NY. These photographs were all taken in New York and are a combination of staged portraits and candid photographs of friends.
Alyssa (Springtide): So, where are you from?
Kevin: I was born in Colombia. I moved here when I was five and I grew up in Long Island.. in Montauk. I went to high school there. I’ve been in New York for more than six years now, since I started school. I went to college here.
Alyssa: Where did you go to school?
Kevin: I went to FIT.
Alyssa: Did you study photography?
Kevin: No, I didn’t. I went to the business school. I studied Advertising and Marketing. But yeah, I’ve been shooting since I was like 14, kind of just as a hobby. I wasn’t really shooting that much since I got to New York and I was like, “There’s so much that I can shoot”. So I kind of just kept it going. I first learned on film and then I started shooting on digital and then I kind of like, went full circle and started shooting on film again. It just felt more natural to me. It’s the way I learned. I learned all dark room and analog photography. I like not really knowing what the outcome is going to be when I am shooting with film, like just shooting and hoping for the best. Its funny the way I kind of went back to that. The way I shoot now is kind of the same way.
Emma (Springtide): Would you say you are a photographer full time or are there other things you do too?
Kevin: No, I wouldn’t say I’m a photographer full time. It’s weird for me because I don’t think I can classify myself as a certain thing. I have so many interests and so many hobbies and you know, limiting myself to one title is kind of difficult for me because I can go from, “All I wanna do is photo” and then next thing, I’ll be like, “I want to do something in Art” or like, “I want to put this show together with my friends and curate the show”. So, yeah, I’m not a photographer full time. I freelance … I do graphic design, I assist occasionally on editorial shoots and I just do photo here and there.
Emma: What interests you in terms of subject matter?
Kevin: Lately, I’ve just been interested in just faces in general. I’ve been working on a street casting project… its kind of ongoing. I’m constantly looking at people – on the subway or in the street. Everyone to me is interesting. It’s a bit difficult to define what I find interesting. For me, I would say, usually it’s not the norm… faces that don’t fit the standard of beauty that is current right now.
Alyssa: Some of the people who you shot are your friends and others are strangers. Does your relationship to the subject you are shooting change how you photograph them?
Kevin: Yeah, I think people definitely inspire me in different ways and when I do shoot them, I think it does shift depending on who it is. I think who I’m photographing and in what way they inspire me does affect how I shoot them. Looking back at these photos for sure that was happening.
Alyssa: The ones with your friends eating you definitely see a playful sort of approach to them and the others feel more serious.
Kevin: Yeah the others who are of people who aren’t necessarily close friends but more so people who I was just inspired by were definitely more serious, more staged, more kind of like, “Let me just capture your essence”.
Emma: What kind of magazines or books do you read?
Kevin: I don’t read as much as I should read. I used to read a lot and then I started getting more into photo and I became more of a visual person. I just don’t have the patience for reading anymore. That was kind of tough when I was in school because the major I was in required so much reading and so much writing. Half way into school I started realizing that I’m a very visual person and thought about even switching to an Art major but I was like, “I’m in this major I have to finish this business degree”. So now, I don’t really read that much. When I do buy a magazine I really just look through it. Sometimes I’ll force myself to read the stories because, you know, I did pay 50 bucks for a magazine so I might as well read the words in the magazine.
Emma: If you are a really strong visual communicator, which you clearly are, so much can be communicated visually and without words so I totally understand that.
Is English your second language?
Kevin: It is. I grew up speaking Spanish in Colombia.
Alyssa: Another question we wanted to ask you is, to what extent is criticism beneficial to you?
Kevin: I think that I don’t get critiqued enough. Which, for me, is kind of hard because I know you shouldn’t really be influenced by what people think of your work but it is beneficial for you to know what people like or don’t like. So for me, I didn’t really go through art school so I’ve never experienced that critique process that people usually go through. Currently, I really have no way of people critiquing my work so sometimes I really don’t know if I’m doing things right or wrong and there is really no way for me to know. I have to form my own opinion about my work and have to be my own critic. With social media, you can kind of tell what people like or don’t like. Which can be very deceiving I guess… because the audience that follows you can be very niche in terms of what they like so if you post something that you think is good but that doesn’t click for them, its not going to get attention. So it could be a really interesting subject and a good photo but people won’t give you that attention so you think it’s a bad photo.
Emma: This doesn’t have to be related to your work but, is there something that you have lost or misplaced that you still think about?
Kevin: Let me think about that one. That’s a tough question. I like it though. Does it have to be something that is still lost or something I’ve lost but possibly have found?
Emma: That works!
Kevin: So, I’m about to go pretty deep but… obviously, I grew up as an immigrant. I came here when I was fairly young. When I came here I kind of felt like I lost my cultural identity. Growing up I kind of had a tough time understanding whether I was very American or very Latino. That pulled me in several ways growing up because I obviously wanted to blend in with the crowd, like, the white kids that I grew up with. That was tough because I felt like I was neither here nor there. I grew up in a very white town and then coming to New York where there are tons of people of color that I could relate to, I kind of felt at home in a way. It felt like, culturally, I re-found myself. I guess, what I’m trying to say is, I wasn’t exactly confident in you know, my identity. When I moved to New York I kind of realized it was okay to be Latino and grow up in America. Lately, I have been using my background in my work more and I’ve been focusing more on subjects that are people of color. Drawing from my background, I feel like, has helped me bring a bit of uniqueness to what I do.